Throughout its 108-year existence, Italian carmaker Maserati has lived through multiple eras under countless owners. From building Grand Prix cars in the 30s to stylish GTs in the 50s and even a Ferrari Enzo-based hypercar in 04, Maserati’s chrome trident has meant many different things over the years. However, as the brand aims to redefine itself as it enters its electrified era, what does its three-pointed badge stand for today?
We can’t talk about Maserati in 2023 without talking about motorsport. Whereas the brand was stuck just drawing inspiration from its racing past in recent years, the Trident has made a full-on comeback. It’s heavily involved in Formula E and GT2 while building small-batch race cars like the MCXtrema. Although the carmaker’s volume seller will always be the Grecale SUV, its return to the track aims to pump some much-needed excitement into the brand.
The MC20, which stands for Maserati Corse 2020, signaled the beginning of this shift three years ago with its debut. Built in partnership with racing specialist Dallara, the MC20’s carbon-fiber monocoque can be altered to suit a coupe, a spyder, and, eventually, a battery-electric car. But more importantly, it made the Trident’s first supercar in 16 years quite a good one.
Three years on, I’m now behind the wheel of its drop-top sibling, the 2023 Maserati MC20 Cielo. And although it’s mechanically identical, only differentiated by a metal and glass folding roof, the Cielo adds a whole new dimension to the driving experience. It lets you connect with its characterful V6 without handling penalties while retaining the style and elegance of the coupe. The MC20 Cielo is the right car to compete in a flourishing supercar market and the right machine to set the tone for the brand’s future.
The Cielo may essentially carry over the coupe’s carbon structure, but Maserati reinforces it to compensate for the spyder’s reduced rigidity. The drop-top is heavier by 143 pounds, a surprisingly small figure considering that it includes the heavy mechanism that folds its top in 12 seconds. Its roof combines a metal structure and an electrochromic window that dims on command, quickly controlling how much natural light hits the cabin.
Visually, not much changes between the Cielo and its coupe counterpart. Its roofline is virtually identical, only differentiated by its redesigned decklid and small rear-facing window. Maserati repositioned its rear engine air intakes to accommodate mechanical changes beneath the skin, and a new set of “XX” style wheels joins its options list, rounding out the short list of exterior updates.
My tester’s Acquamarina paint is one of the best colors I’ve seen in years. It looks light blue at first glance but shifts depending on lighting conditions thanks to its pearlescent paint, giving it tons of variety. Unfortunately, it’s only available for the Primaserie Launch Edition, of which Maserati plans to build just 60 cars to highlight its Fuoriserie customization program.
Like most modern supercars, you can adorn the MC20 Cielo with tons of carbon fiber extras, although I prefer Maserati’s supercar when it’s kept simple. By lacking any over-the-top aero components or superfluous styling details, it comes across as a simple yet stylish car that doesn’t need tacked-on bits to shine. It may not be as flashy as an equivalent Lamborghini or Ferrari, but it’s far more timeless.
While the MC20’s arrival signaled Maserati’s return to motorsport, it debuted the carmaker’s Nettuno engine, a 90-degree twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 that develops a healthy 621 horsepower and 538 pound-feet of torque. In the Cielo, it allows for a three-second 0-60 time and a 199 mph top speed. All that power goes to the rear wheels via an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic.
In the context of modern supercars, the Maserati MC20 Cielo’s twin-turbo V6 is rather conventional. Competitors like the McLaren Artura and Ferrari 296 GTB also sport six cylinders but in a more exotic 120-degree configuration, which results in a more V12-like exhaust note, not to mention the addition of electric motors. Even the half-priced Chevrolet Corvette Z06 features a brand-new high-revving, naturally-aspirated V8.
However, the Nettuno has to be far more versatile than the engines listed above, as it also powers the Grecale Trofeo and GranTurismo Trofeo. And while it’s not the most exotic engine on sale, it’s got plenty of character. Its engine note isn’t that of a traditional 90-degree V6. It’s more fizzy, less shouty. Not that it matters, though, as the whoosh from its turbos almost entirely drowns it out.
With the top down, the turbos flutter the second you lift off the accelerator and whistle loudly once you get back on it. And while the Cielo isn’t particularly loud, its power comes on strong following some slight turbo lag. It’s charmingly old school in this regard, lacking some of the immediacy of its modern rivals but rewarding you with dramatic acceleration when it finally hits.
Thanks to its closely spaced gears, though, the MC20 stays in boost as you work through the gears. Although 621 hp is starting to feel like not that much as more hybrids enter the market, the Cielo feels even quicker on the road than its stats would suggest.
It’s almost impossible to tell the Cielo apart from its coupe counterpart in the bends. It combines double wishbones front and rear with adaptive shocks, allowing it to firm up significantly in the top Sport and Corsa modes while retaining daily driver comfort levels in the plusher GT setting.
While its suspension may not be as plush as what you’ll find in a McLaren Artura, it’s still comfortable enough for daily driving or longer drives. And despite using a carbon-fiber structure and butterfly doors, its relatively low door sills make ingress and egress easy, further adding to its usability.
Given its versatility, Maserati MC20 Cielo easily handles Southern California’s twisty canyon roads. It’s nicely balanced through tight roads while confidently putting all its power down on the corner exit. While its steering isn’t particularly communicative, it’s quick and direct, coupled with an agile and grippy front end, resulting in a car that feels lighter than its stats suggest.
Its $10,000 carbon-ceramic brakes are racecar-like in that they require a substantial amount of force to clamp down, not a problem while blasting up a canyon road, but something that requires getting used to on slower city streets. My tester also featured a $2,300 electronic limited-slip differential and a $5,500 set of 20-inch forged lightweight wheels.
Inside, the Cielo builds on the quality improvements implemented by the MC20 revealed three years ago. Its interior features a two-tone Ice/Grey finish with triangular stripes on the seat cushion and backrest. Its dashboard blends carbon fiber and suede trim and accommodates two 10-inch screens to fulfill digital instrument and infotainment duties.
Like its exterior, the MC20 Cielo’s interior is relatively simple, with most controls housed within the centrally-mounted touchscreen. Its center console is an exposed piece of carbon fiber that houses an updated drive mode selector and a few necessary buttons.
While its interior is quite functional, it’s pretty conventional, while its floating screen to the right of the steering wheel feels like an afterthought. Unlike the rest of the car, I suspect the MC20’s tech won’t age quite as well.
The 2023 Maserati MC20 Cielo starts at $262,695, including a $1,495 destination fee. However, thanks to pricey extras such as its $39,000 exterior carbon pack, $10,000 carbon-ceramic brakes, and $7,000 interior carbon-fiber pack, my tester comes in at $339,700. Given that a Lamborghini Huracan Tecnica Spyder starts at $239,000 and tops out under $300,000, the Cielo’s elevated price tag could become a challenge as it works to carve out its slice of the supercar scene.
Taken as a whole, however, the Cielo is a formidable entrant to the supercar space. It’s stylish, powerful, and thrilling to drive, checking all the major boxes. However, given its hefty price, its conventional V6-engine setup becomes more challenging to accept, especially considering how its competitors push the space forward with innovative powertrains. Some of its interior tech isn’t quite as well integrated as what you’d find in comparable cars.
Drawbacks aside, the MC20 is precisely the kind of car Maserati should be focusing on. Its six-figure cars like it and the GranTurismo allow the Italian brand to flex its engineering might. And thankfully, it has, leaving mass-market missteps like the Ghibli behind. Maserati is firmly in a new era, and thrilling cars like the MC20 Cielo once again cement the Italian brand as a proper player in the space.